South African batsman Stephen Cook was delighted that his fledgling opening partnership with Dean Elgar has taken a massive leap forward, into the record books, after the third day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.
Cook scored his third Test century – a career-best 117 – and shared in a hundred partnership for the first wicket with Elgar for the second innings in succession.
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They added 116 on Wednesday, having put on 104 on the first morning when batting was no easy task.
It was the first time since the famous Timeless Test against England in Durban in March 1939 that South Africa enjoyed a century partnership for the first wicket in both innings of the same Test form the same pair of men.
Pieter van der Bijl, father of fast bowling great Vintcent, partnered with Alan Melville in the first innings and Bruce Mitchell in the second at Kingsmead in a game that lasted 10 days before being declared a draw as England had to catch their ship home.
It was only the 10th time in Test history that the same opening pair have had a hundred partnership in both innings of the same Test; Bob Catterall and Mitchell were the only other South African pair to achieve the feat, against England in Birmingham in 1929.
“It was great to bat with Dean for a period of time and nice to dovetail so that we both got runs for the first time. If we can get a partnership going up front then it helps the team a lot, and opening the batting is always about forging that partnership and the only way to do that is by spending time together out in the middle,” Cook said.
Having now scored three centuries and two half-centuries in his first seven Tests, Cook has surely made the grade at Test level and he confirmed that he is now feeling more comfortable at those rarefied heights.
“Australia was very tough and I went through some hardships there, but the hundred in Adelaide made me a bit more relaxed.
“Coming off a century you feel better about the way things are going and I was able to make a few little adjustments to my technique over the last three weeks and bed them down,” Cook said.
The Highveld Lions captain is not the first Proteas batsman to have his technique questioned upon his introduction to Test cricket – Hashim Amla had his detractors too – but Cook said opening the batting at international level requires a durable temperament.
“Shutting out the noise, whether it be from the opposition or those outside, is always the challenge. It takes a thick skin, which I think I’ve developed through the years at first-class level. I’m not blind to the comments, I realise there are doubters, but if you’re in the public arena then you have to accept both the congratulations and the criticism,” Cook said.
Cook, who often bats in obdurate fashion, was fluent on Wednesday, scoring his 117 off just 178 balls as he laid the platform for a declaration; South Africa ending the third day in absolutely prime position – 432 ahead with five wickets and two full days remaining.
“The pitch didn’t do as much today, there wasn’t much swing, and we were able to score at a fast rate [4.38 to the over], so credit to everyone for that.
“We batted with urgency, especially in terms of our running between the wickets, we looked to exploit the singles on offer and not allow the bowlers to settle on their lengths, we wanted to rotate the strike,” Cook said.